“Actually, she never cries here with us. She’s quite a joy,” Violet said in a remarkably steady voice for someone wishing to smack this seventeen year old. She drew in a calming breath and reminded herself Karen was just not up to the caring of a child as she was a child herself in many ways.
Here was the perfect person to run a daycare center, not to mention the best darn childcare provider right under her nose, but as Violet never held a job outside of home it never occurred to Jocelyn that it should change. How stupid was that? For someone with a PhD from Princeton, very. But Richard was gone now as were the kids and Violet’s many talents were going to waste. At least they had been.
Violet was in her element at Mio Caro Bambino surrounded by children. If there was anyone suited to the life of a Mary Poppins it was Violet Bennett. No cranky infant, rambunctious toddler, mischievous kindergartner or defiant, snot-nosed brat could make her think anything other than all children are wonderful. She loved them all. She simply couldn’t help it and that may very well be her downfall.
It was, therefore, like a bit of bereavement for Violet at the end of each work day when she had to stand back watching all her kids being taken away. She had to keep her fists clenched at her side to keep from snatching a baby out of a parent’s loving arms. Her secret wish was for some absent-minded mom or dad to just forget to pickup their child, so she could take one home with her.
Of course, that was with most of the kids. When it was a child obviously considered a burden to its parents, possibly neglected or abused and perhaps not even loved, Violet felt an ache in her heart and imagined herself incompetent, useless and nothing short of miserable that she couldn’t do something about it. Or could she?
Thus was the case when handing over little Missy, a 5 month old darling with huge brown eyes, a dimpled smile, a joyous disposition and soft, dark brown hair just long enough to tie a ribbon on the top of her head. As soon as Missy’s mother, a harried teenager who obviously wished to be anywhere but there, burst in a half hour late the baby promptly started crying and clung to Violet making her heart just about break.
“There now, Sweetie,” Violet cooed trying desperately to keep herself from joining the baby in a good crying fit. “It’s time to go home.”
“What now? She cries all the time!” Karen snapped grabbing Missy and forcefully propping the child on her bony hip.
“I know the people who run it, Reverend Louis Trenton and his wife Flora. They’re wonderful people. They can find a great home for Missy in no time. Two weeks tops and Missy will have parents who can care for her, love her and treat her like the little princess she is and you can go on with your own life,” Violet said watching Karen very closely and mentally crossing her fingers.
This thought gave her the strength to continue without rancor. “She may be crying because of the severe diaper rash she has. You might want to carry her a bit more delicately until it clears up.” She then pulled out of a pocket a large tube of ointment and handed it to the girl saying, “Here, this will help it but you’ll have to change her more often and possibly use cloth diapers. Some babies are more sensitive to...”
“You’re kidding, right?” Karen nearly snarled. “With all I’ve got to do you want me to do more for Missy? I got a term paper due tomorrow, a huge test to study for and I haven’t even started my senior project. This kid won’t let me sleep. She cries so much! I’m falling asleep in my classes. I’m failing most of them!”
Violet, realizing this girl was close to tears, too, or ready to throw the baby into a wall, took another deep breath. “If Missy were more comfortable she wouldn’t cry and then you could do your work, she would sleep better and then you would as well.”
Karen shook her head. “You just don’t get it? I don’t have time for anything. I’m off the volleyball team cuz my grades suck. You have no clue what it’s like having a baby at seventeen, Ms. Bennett,” she said desperately, her eyes now threatening a flood.
“Actually...”Violet started to say but Richard’s voice stopped her.
“Don’t Violet,” he whispered. “It was so different for you. For one thing you had me and my parents and you loved Kenny as soon as you knew you were pregnant. Do you honestly think the same for this kid?”
“No,” she mumbled. “I know it’s tough being so young, Karen. You’re not ready for all this responsibility and it’s worse when you have no one to help you. I know how tough it is to have a baby under the best of circumstances but you have to remember, Missy comes first now and...”
“And what about me? I wanna go to college! I wanna get out of this two-bit town. I wanna see the world, but I’m stuck with this kid,” Karen shrieked making the baby cry louder. “Shut up, Missy!”
Violet pulled a card out of her pocket and handed it to the girl. “I think you may want this then,” she said quietly, biting her lip in suspense as Karen held the card up to her watery eyes to read it.
“Littlest Angels Orphanage? What ...?”
“But she’s not an orphan. She’s...”
“If you do not think that Missy is the most important thing in your world, then you should give her to people who would,” Violet retorted sternly.
“But she’s my kid,” Karen returned looking doubtful and frowning at the card. “I’d never see her again.”
“There are open adoptions now.”
“What’s that?” Karen asked finally looking up from the card.
“That’s where the child is adopted by parents who allow the birth mother to stay, if she chooses, in the child’s life. The Trentons can explain it all to you and answer any questions you have.” Violet stared at Missy who had two fingers in her mouth and was drooling all over her hand. Her howls had subsided to mere whimpering now. Violet pulled a tissue out of her pocket and reached out a hand dabbing gently at the chubby cheeks until a faint smile emerged.
“She would be so loved, Karen. Such a precious child. Missy would bring such joy to people who can’t have children. It would be great for everyone but it is a tough decision, not one to be made lightly. So, go home and think on it, call Flora and .... we’ll see you tomorrow, Missy. Be good for your Mama, okay?”
A genuine smile broke over the baby’s face warming Violet inside and out. Karen said nothing and turned to the door looking slightly dazed and holding that tiny card as if it were a lifeline.
“And Karen?” Violet said unable to stop herself. “If you need someone to babysit Missy, call me. My number’s on the back of the card. My home number. Anytime, any day, even at night and for free. You understand?”
Karen gaped at her. “You would...?”
Violet nodded and repeated, “Anytime for free.”
Karen eyes filled with tears but she remained quiet as she stepped out of the center and went to her car holding little Missy with a slightly more gentle grip. Violet watched as the weary, young girl placed Missy in a car seat. She had to brush her own tears aside when she heard footsteps behind her.
They all stepped out into the dark, cold night. Diane locked the door and Heather waved to Violet. From her idling car she watched the mother and daughter rush with giddy pleasure to their fun time together. Violet felt so lonely she could cry. Richard put a hand on her shoulder but it didn’t help much this time.
“Karen finally come for Missy?” Diane asked coming in with her own daughter already wearing the snowy-white, fake fur coat she got for Christmas. “Everyday she comes later and later. I kinda expect her to just not show up one day.”
Violet knelt down and zipped up Heather’s coat, pulling the hood up over her long, dark blonde tresses and tying it securely under her chin. She smiled and rubbed her nose with the tiny girl’s making her giggle.
“I gave her the card,” Violet said to Diane before turning to Heather, “There now. Our perfect little snow queen.”
“You did?” Diane said incredulously. “What did she say?”
“Not much. She’s..... pondering I think.”
Diane’s eyes were huge as saucers. “Pondering? I couldn’t imagine....” She trailed off looking at her own child, her love for the little girl quite visible on her face. She shook her head as if to dispel the very idea of giving up a child for adoption.
“Nor I but some can and do and some should,” Violet replied with a smile now addressing Heather. “And where are we off to tonight, little Miss Snow Queen?”
“We gonna get pizza,” she answered excitedly.
“Hmm, yummy,” Violet replied, then standing up she added, “Need any help with the paper work, Diane?”
“No, all done. Guess Daddy done trained me real good!” she said with a giggle. “And I thought he was just trying not to let me have any fun during my summer holidays making me work for him. Fathers can be good that way, huh?”
Violet forced a smile. “They can, yes. So, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She grabbing her wool coat and put it on.
“Come with us, Violet,” Diane said, with Heather nodding vigorously by her side.
“Isn’t it supposed to snow tonight?”
Diane waved a dismissive hand and said, “Nothing to worry about. A dusting at best. Please come?”
“Not tonight. Really, I’m... I’m rather tired,” she lied as she placed a long hand crocheted scarf around her neck and over the lower part of her face. “Well, see you tomorrow, Heather. Have fun with your mama.”
He held her tight and somehow felt alive again. She kissed him, a long passionate mating of lips filled with a burning longing, a desperate need. She tugged his shirt off before pulling him down to the bed so his body could blanket hers. This was too real to not be real, they both thought.
“Violet, why don’t you stop by the video store and get a couple of your favorite chick flicks. That ought to cheer you up some,” he said in the softest voice possible.
“No, don’t feel like it,” she replied with a sad sigh.
“You could get a pepperoni pizza,” Richard suggested as he watched the bright red neon sign Tony’s Italian Restaurant flash through the gloom.
“You know I don’t like pepperoni. Nitrates give me migraines,” she replied sounding sullen. “Just not hungry.”
Richard couldn’t think of anything else to cheer her up. He wracked his brain as they drove home. It was tough when you were just a ghost and she couldn’t see you. But it suddenly occurred to him that he could make himself be seen if he woke her up. She was now sleeping better, almost through the night, now that she had something to tire her out. Struggling with all those little kids would do it. He remembered how tired she had been with just their own two kids.
But he didn’t really want to awaken her. She looked like a goddess as she slept. He loved to watch her sleep, her dark auburn hair fanning the pillow, her cheeks warm and flushed and her lips pink as rose petals and slightly parted as if ready for a kiss. How he longed to kiss her, to really be with her but the only way of doing that was to awaken her.
He followed her listless movements as she prepared for bed that night and waited for her to be asleep. As he had done with Freddy and the kids, he placed his hand on her shoulder and waited to see her reaction. She didn’t disappoint him.
Violet stared up at him blinking sleep from her eyes. “Ri...Richard?”she whispered her large hazel eyes as wide as they would go.
“Yes, it’s me,” he answered, his heart overflowing with love. He watched as tears filled her eyes and spilled out. “Don’t cry, please don’t. You’ve done enough of that.”
“I...is it really you? You’ve come back?”
“I never left, Baby. I just couldn’t let you see me before. You hardly ever slept.”
This made no sense to her but she hardly cared. “Oh, Richard, you’re back!” She flung her arms around him and squeezed his neck till he thought his head would pop off.
They made love relishing every minute, every caress, every whispered word of love and longing. Surely Richard was alive again. How, he didn’t want to think. What mattered now was he need never go away. He was back for good. This was his unfinished business, to keep Violet from being lonely, to make her truly happy.
“Oh, Richard, you came back to me,” she mumbled snuggling closer to Richard. She felt warm and alive and oh so wonderfully sleepy. She closed her eyes giving into the need for slumber holding on to Richard as if she’d never let go because, of course, she wouldn’t, not now that her wish came true. She’d never felt so replete, so content, so happy. Her Richard was back. “Don’t ever leave me again.”
“Never,” he answered kissing the top of her sweet, orange blossom scented hair. “I’m back for good, Baby.”
Violet awoke with a smile still on her lips. She reached out a hand. The smile faded when she found nothing beside her, no Richard. Turning her head she saw an indentation on his pillow but nothing more. Her lips trembled as she stared at it then burst out in bitter tears wailing, “It was just a dream! Oh, Richard, I thought...oh!” She buried her face in his pillow wracking sobs escaping unheeded. She was still alone, so alone, always alone.
“No! I’m here. I’m still here, Violet. It was real, last night was real. It was real!” he shouted desperate to make her hear, make her believe. He reached for her but felt nothing. He gaped as his hand went through Violet’s shoulder like vapor. The enormity of this killed him all over again. They were back at square one.
But they weren’t, he told himself with a new resolution running through him. He knew now how to become alive for Violet, at least for a bit and he could live this half life making Violet happy. Violet deserved that, needed that. He’d make it work.
He stayed by her side waiting for her to stop crying. When she did she sat up wiping her face.
“Well, it is what it is,” she muttered, realizing with a slight smirk it used to be Richard’s favorite expression. “At least we had last night.” She sighed, stood up, made the bed and went to get ready for work.
As she dressed she thought it wouldn’t be so bad to have Richard come to her in her sleep. It wasn’t perfect but it was as good as she could wish. It would have to do.